2021.03.04 18:00

‘Secrecy’at Belarus nuclear plant a danger to Lithuania – intelligence

BNS2021.03.04 18:00

Belarus’ nuclear plant built some 50 kilometres from Vilnius poses a risk to Lithuania due to the “substandard work ethics”, “political pressure”, and the “culture of secrecy” amid the previous incidents, the country's intelligence agencies said in a report on Thursday.

"In autumn 2020, Belarus hastily launched the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant (NPP)” without completing “critical” safety tests, the State Security Department and the military intelligence said in their annual national security threat assessment report.

"The NPP poses a high risk to Lithuania as Belarusian authorities continue to [...] conceal information about the incidents," the report said.

Belarus' authorities also pressured Gosatomnadzor, the country's nuclear and radiation safety department, into issuing a license for the plant's physical launch.

"Gosatomnadzor succumbed to political pressure and agreed to issue separate licenses for the physical launch and the power start-up of Unit 1 of the Belarus NPP. Subsequently, the power start-up was also initiated without due testing of some systems critical to control of Unit 1, its exploitation and incident management."

Read more: Belarus nuclear plant near Vilnius taken offline after 'protection system activated'

"In November 2020 alone, there were four unplanned stoppages of the Belarus NPP. Gosatomnadzor made an official comment on the first incident two days later [and] only after the information had already leaked out to the media. Moreover, Gosatomnadzor provided only partial explanation concealing information on other dysfunctions that had taken place at the Belarus NPP," the intelligence agencies said.

"Given the prevailing culture of secrecy, Belarusian authorities are unlikely to give reliable and timely information in case of emergency," they warned.

"There are no significant improvements in regards to nuclear safety in Belarus. The institutions responsible for nuclear safety remain exposed to political pressure; the personnel of the NPP lack expertise and maintain substandard work ethics,” according to the report.

“Rosatom’s Alexander Parfionov, the deputy senior engineer responsible for the nuclear safety at the NPP, resigned from his duties in the eve of the power start-up of the Belarus NPP." it added.

As the Astravyets plant's industrial operation is starting in 2021, Belarus aims to circumvent trade restrictions and sell its electricity to the Baltic countries, according to the report.

"Lithuania restricts electricity imports from the Belarus NPP under the law that forbids electricity imports from unsafe nuclear facilities. Nevertheless, Belarus maintains interest in trading its electricity in the Baltic market and thus seeks to bypass restrictions imposed by Lithuania via trading intermediaries, electricity swap schemes or transit via Russia," the report said.

"Russia may take over the operation of the Belarus NPP, as Belarus considers renouncing the rights to exploit the NPP and transferring them to a subsidiary company of Rosatom.””

"This would further enhance Belarus’ dependence on Russia and make the power plant an entirely Russian project, as the latter already provided loans, nuclear fuel, and knowhow for the NPP,” the report concludes.

Lithuania is the most vocal critic of the Astravyets plant, saying that the facility fails to meet international safety and environmental standards, an allegation that Belarus denies.

Lithuanian president calls on EU to boycott Astravyets electricity

On Thursday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has reiterated his call on the EU member states to boycott electricity produced at the Astravyets nuclear power plant.

"It is time for the member states to take collective action to protect the EU market from the import of unsafe electricity from third countries," the Lithuanian president said on Thursday following his conversation with European Commission Vice-President Economy and Trade Valdis Dombrovskis.

Following Lithuania’s initiative, the European Council agreed in December on the need to ensure nuclear safety at the Belarusian plant. The Council also called on the European Commission to consider measures to prevent commercial imports of electricity from unsafe nuclear facilities.